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Published on May 09, 2017

Maintaining a Healthy Memory

Maintaining a Healthy MemoryMemory loss is a normal part of aging. But how do you know what’s normal versus when it might be something more? Michael Zelson, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist, talks about memory changes with age, when to be concerned as well as tips for maintaining a healthy memory.

Maintaining a Healthy Memory

Q: Do blood pressure medications affect your memory?

A: First off, I am not a physician so you should make sure you discuss any concerns about this with your doctor. Some blood pressure medications can cause drowsiness that if severe enough might affect your alertness, your ability to register new information or to form memories. On the other hand, research has shown that having chronic hypertension or uncontrolled hypertension is a risk factor for stroke and some types of dementia. So on the whole taking your blood pressure medication as prescribed would be advisable. As I am not a physician, please discuss your personal situation with your doctor.

Q: Is dementia hereditary?  

A: This is a complex question as there are many types of dementia and the genetics of many dementias are not as yet well understood. The good news is that the majority of dementias are not inherited. Some causes of dementia are clearly inherited, such as Huntington's disease. With regards to Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common type of dementia, a history in the family does slightly increase the chance of later generations getting the disease. The majority of people with Alzheimer's disease do not inherit it from a parent. There are a very small number of people (i.e., less than 5% of all cases of Alzheimer's disease) who have rare genetic mutations and tend to develop Alzheimer's disease at an early age, in their 30s, 40s or 50s. The second most frequent type of dementia, which is related to the effects of stroke, is for the most part caused by lifestyle risk factors and aging. Finally, family history is an important factor for frontotemporal dementia (about 20% of all dementias) as perhaps 10% -15% of people who develop this type of dementia have a strong family history across at least two generations of the condition, though conversely 80% or more do not have a family history.